Zelensky meets top-level US delegation; Washington pledges new Ukraine aid, diplomatic surge
The US secretaries of state and defense met on Sunday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the highest-level visit to the country’s capital by an American delegation since the start of Russia's invasion.
The secretive meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin came as Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia's campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow's forces sought to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port of Mariupol.
Blinken and Austin told Ukraine’s president, Zelensky, and his advisers that the United States would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition.
They also said President Joe Biden would announce his pick for a US ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left ahead of Russia’s invasion in February would start returning to the country this coming week.
It was the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February.
Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Ukrainian leader Zelensky met the US officials Sunday, as the port city of Mariupol's defences were "on the brink of collapse" and Kyiv was in dire need of offensive weapons.
Washington ordered the withdrawal of its diplomats in the weeks prior to Russia's February invasion of Ukraine, but has been a leading donor of financial aid and weaponry to the country, and a key sponsor of sanctions targeting Moscow.
"Since the start of hostilities, we've had a team across the border in Poland who's been handling this work for us," the official told reporters waiting for Blinken and Austin on the Polish side of the border.
"Starting this week, members of that team will be able to do day trips instead into Ukraine," he said.
"Ultimately, (they will) resume presence in Kyiv."
Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries. Some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv.
Officials say the remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began.
"This visit does not portend actual involvement by US forces," a senior defence official said.
"The president has been very clear there will be no US troops fighting in Ukraine and that includes the skies over Ukraine."